Continued attempts to stop the sale of wild animals and their meat have not caused any change in the wet markets of Asia Pacific, although the region has been struggling to contain the largest and deadliest wave of COVID-19.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly three-quarters of infectious diseases that spread to humans are of animal origin.
The SARS virus, for example, which killed 800 people between 2002 and 2004, is believed to have started with bats before spreading to the Chinese wildlife market in the Chinese city of Foshan.
In April, after a research team in China said the Wuhan seafood market and COVID-19 were likely to reach humans, the WHO never made a move urging countries to stop selling wild mammals in wet markets. an emergency measure.
Asian animal welfare groups have been making the same demands for years sanitary and cruel conditions where wild animals and domestic animals are stored in wet markets are the perfect breeding ground for zoonotic diseases.
Several Asian countries have passed new laws to reduce the sale of “bush meat” and limit pandemic activity in wet markets.
But almost all attempts to cancel the trade have led to the continued popularity of shrub meat among some Asian citizens, caused by the broad economic value of the sector and lack of enforcement.
Stopping the trade will be “a difficult exercise,” said Li Shuo, Greenpeace’s China global policy adviser.
A presidential decree was issued last July in Vietnam to ban all wildlife imports and impose much harsher penalties on violators, including a 15-year prison sentence.
But a survey conducted by the NGO PanNature last month found no positive change in trade in positive wildlife products at the local level in Vietnam. In the wet markets of the Mekong Delta and other parts of the country, turtles, birds and endangered wildlife species continued to be sold.
Indonesia, in the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in Asia with more than 2.5 million cases and at least 67,000 dead, has tried to convince local officials to close the country’s wildlife markets since the pandemic began. .
Officials in the city of Solo in central Java were warned to kill hundreds of bats at Depok, one of the country’s largest poultry, dog and wildlife markets. But the victory was short-lived.
“When COVID-19 first struck, hundreds of bats were violently destroyed and stopped selling,” said Lola Webber, coordinator of the Dog Meat-Free Indonesia Coalition coalition. “But from what I’ve heard from my sources, it’s common today.”
Marison Guciano, founder of Flight NGO, which protects Indonesian birds, has confirmed Webber’s claim. “I was there a week ago and they still openly sell bats, snakes, rabbits, turtles, ferrets, beavers, cats, dogs, hamsters, hedgehogs, parrots, owls, crows and eagles.”
The same scenario is happening in wet markets across Indonesia.
Last week for World Zoonosis Day, the Four Paws animal welfare team released photos taken in June of hundreds of bats, rats, dogs, snakes, birds and other animals for sale at three different markets in the northern Sulawesi province 2,000 km (1,243 miles) northeast Alone.
History repeats itself
In April and May of last year, a few months after the pandemic began, global animal rights groups PETA began visiting a wet market selling wildlife in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and China.
“We hoped to establish new rules and regulations, but we saw it as usual, all different species in dirty cages, some alive, others dead, sometimes in the same cages,” says PIR Asia spokesperson Nirali Shah. “These environments are very frightening and stressful for animals. This weakens the immune system and makes them weaker between species and then diseases that can then jump to humans.
“In some markets we saw animals taken out of cages, killed on the blood-soaked surfaces of other species and workers not wearing gloves, no hygiene at all. This combination of dangerous factors is like a time bomb waiting for a new pandemic to begin, ”he says.
In China, where complete ban on wildlife trafficking and trade in Wuhan when the coronavirus rose in February last year, the situation has improved but to a lesser extent, according to Shah.
“You can no longer sell exotic wildlife for sale openly in China’s wet markets. But they still sell all kinds of birds under unfavorable conditions. And in many of those markets we found that if you want a particular animal, whatever it is, vendors can get it for you even if it’s banned. ”
It’s not the first time China has tried to end the bush meat trade.
In 2002, wildlife markets were closed due to SARS but later reopened due to economic pressure. In 2016, the Chinese Academy of Engineers valued the country’s wildlife industry at $ 76 billion, with bushmeat accounting for $ 19 billion in business activity annually and 6.3 million people in China.
The right direction
In Malaysia, captured wildlife and shrub meat were sometimes sold in wet markets before the pandemic. But it was available through direct sales and restaurants.
In August last year, retired Police Inspector General Abdul Hamid Bador gave the district police chiefs a month to ensure that their areas are free from illegal restaurants that sell shrub meat. The wildlife department was ordered to assist the police.
“Don’t tell me that in an area with 300 or 500 employees, you can’t spot restaurants and outlets that sell exotic animals?” Abdul Hamid said then.
Some kidnappings of notorious wild meat followed in markets, restaurants and private homes.
Elizabeth John, a spokeswoman for TRAFFIC in Kuala Lumpur, an NGO that deals with illegal wildlife trade, said the networks are a sign of success and failure.
“Forming a joint working group between police and wildlife officials is definitely about acting in the right direction,” he said. “But the fact that the crisis continues during the pandemic shows that the warnings have not changed attitudes among consumers. Despite the risks it poses, the desire to eat wildlife is still there.”